Spotlight on…Andy Lancaster

TJ interviews an L&D specialist currently top of their success. This month, the focus is on the CIPD’s head of L&D, Andy Lancaster

Andy Lancaster has more than 25 years of experience in learning and organisational development. He has worked across a variety of sectors but his work in the not-for-profit sector has provided him with his biggest challenges and greatest achievements, winning him notable recognition in recent years.

Lancaster was runner up in the TJ Awards 2011 in the Learning and Development Professional of Year category and he led the winning gold award entry for the Best Operational Programme of 2012. As TJ’s editor Debbie Carter says: “From the moment I met Andy I was struck by his genuine passion for developing people and at that point felt sure he was destined for much more in our industry.”

In January 2014, Lancaster was appointed as head of learning and development at CIPD where he runs the training arm and supports the delivery of the wider new vision for L&D.He is also a volunteer director at the East to West Trust, a charity that provides support and mentoring to vulnerable and ‘at risk’ young people.

The interview

Why training and how did you start?

My motivation to be involved in learning as a career can be traced back to school days. As a very small lad, my enthusiastic design technology teacher Mr Childs made every effort to support my development including making a box so that I could step up to use the pillar drill safely! I deliberately mention Mr Childs by name because role models are vital in our development; people inspire our success and we all have those who have had an impact on our journey.

I subsequently chose design as my primary area of academic interest and like my father, another great teaching role model, went to Brunel University to study design with education. I seemed to have a natural wiring for it, gaining a distinction in teaching and then I continued my studies gaining a Masters Degree in Instructional Design.

Looking back, I value the academic and theoretical underpinning for my subsequent career.

I was soon appointed as a lecturer at Brunel University in computer-aided design; as ever, younger ones were leading in the creative use of technology.

My next step was to work for computer-aided design software company, Autodesk, developing innovative commercial training and qualifications.

This experience cemented my career direction in designing creative learning; the desire to support the development of others became my occupational ‘why’.

We were recently challenged to write a six-word synopsis of what we do as part of our entry on the CIPD intranet. Mine is “Inspire people to realise their potential!”

Who or what inspires you?

There are three key things that inspire me professionally.

Firstly, people who are passionate about their specialism. If you add to the skill of imparting understanding, the ability to ignite interest, then I am truly inspired. For me, an example is Professor Brian Cox who can excite and engage me in quantum mechanics (on the TV) even though I’m not a great scientist. We need more energising inspiring people like Cox in learning and development for all ages and abilities.

Secondly, I am inspired by creative people. I was fortunate to cross paths at Brunel University with the inimitable Professor Heinz Wolff of 1980’s TV The Great Egg Race fame. He was a divergent thinker, likely to come up with a new invention based on a teaspoon during a coffee break. At the time he was applying creative thinking to solutions as diverse as working in space and supporting those with motor neurone disease. I am inspired when there are creative people around who can generate innovative ideas. It’s possible to learn ideation techniques to generate inspirational ideas, but I love being around people who naturally dwell in the ‘left field’.

Thirdly, I am inspired by people who strive to realise the potential in those facing disadvantage. I recently met the brilliant Carmel McConnell, founder of the Magic Breakfast, who has improved the life chances of thousands of children through addressing hunger as a barrier to learning. Helping overcome social disadvantage is a personal value. That’s why I am a pleased to be director of a charity working with vulnerable young people and to be supporting the work of a local drop in centre working with homeless people. In fact on the latter we are just setting up a community coffee shop with the aim of providing employability skills for those struggling to get into work.

[pullquote]So, if I were creating a personal coat of arms my motto would be… ‘Inspiration, ideation and compassion’.[/pullquote]

What has been your lowest moment, and what your noblest hour?

My lowest moment took place when I worked at Phoenix Futures, a large national substance misuse rehab charity. It is a truly amazing organisation which enables service users to rebuild their lives from often devastating circumstances. Many staff had previously experienced substance misuse problems and therefore had unique first-hand perspectives to support dramatic life change in others. However, as head of HR I had to manage a very rare situation where an excellent staff member relapsed and went back to square one. It was an utterly devastating situation for all concerned and a sobering reminder that successful change does not guarantee that regression will not occur.

My noblest moment; can I be greedy and have two?

Firstly, winning the TJ Award for Best Operational Training whilst at Hanover Housing was amazing. With limited resources, we mentored a group of novice trainers who, after only 12 weeks’ experience, delivered an innovative and highly successful programme.

When we went up on stage to receive the award, I was flanked by mentees who had only been trainers for a few months. It was a great moment and confirmed my belief that we all have undeveloped abilities; it just needs someone to provide the opportunity and to encourage self-belief.

Secondly, recently being appointed as head of learning and development at the CIPD which was a surprise and honour!

What and when was your career turning point?

Looking back, I think the key turning point was writing the first ever computer-aided design qualifications while working at Autodesk. I was only in my late twenties with no previous experienced of developing qualifications so it was a bold initiative for the organisation, the wider design profession and particularly for me!

The huge challenge established a confidence to innovate and a ‘can-do’ attitude that has served me well in other daunting development situations. The learning development work at Autodesk influenced a global market so I also learnt that you can make a massive difference from your desk! I remember one of my current mentors often encouraging me to “Think big in small places!”

Describe your best learning and development experience?

I had a valued period working for a faith-based charity and co-developed a leadership programme which we delivered to national leaders of the persecuted, underground Christian church in communist Vietnam.

Looking back, it was a bit of an edgy scenario! We were taken on mopeds, with a roll of wallpaper as the only training resource, to a secret location above a shop, accessed via a ladder. To my surprise in a relatively small room about 50 incredible young leaders from around the nation had gathered. I’m a firm believer in social learning and that as a trainer, learner perspectives are a key source for your own development. Through this experience I gained the life-changing learning that wherever something excellent is pioneered someone will have paid a personal cost.

And, we sometimes complain about resourcing but that single roll of wallpaper helped developed leaders! Significant change is not always dependent on having massive resources and we should “…never despise the day of small things”.

The challenge to each of us is to make the investment in time, thinking, emotion and commitment to make a true difference in the situations and opportunities that come our way.

What’s next in your career?

At the time of this interview, I am nine months into being head of learning and development at CIPD. I can honestly say that when I set out in my career I would never have thought that I would end up in what is arguably one of the most influential positions in learning and development.

It’s a privilege and challenge to be designing and developing learning for a profession not just an organisation.

More than 25 years of varied experience in educational, commercial, technological and third sector environments have now come together in this exciting new stage of my personal learning journey.

As well as running the CIPD’s learning arm, it is brilliant to be involved with defining and implementing CIPD’s new vision for learning and development. This is not just about creating products but connecting with practitioners in new innovative ways. I am particularly excited to be helping lead CIPD into the new era of innovative digital and social collaborative learning.

I am also just co-writing my first book on the effective use of webinars.

There’s not much time amidst the innovation work at CIPD for writing, but I have lots of ideas buzzing around in my head that I’d like to share.

Playing to win – Andy shares his top tips to success

Don’t neglect your own professional development. To be leaders, we need to stay at the forefront of thinking and practice so we must commit to undertake relevant reading, training and qualifications and to proactively draw on peers and mentors.

Develop a strong professional network and that requires a genuine interest in others. Some of my most significant learning has been through social collaborative interactions.

Invest in interacting on social media, the ‘seed bed’ of professional ideas, resources and references. Look at who influential thinkers follow and do the same! Be confident to ‘work out loud’ and post your thoughts, successes and failures. And, make sure you take time to comment on other professional’s posts – social media is a two-way thing.

Great learning organisations have great learning teams, so invest in the development of the learning practitioners you lead or manage. Look out for the hidden L&D skills that exist within others in the organisation who are not directly involved in learning; they are part of the picture and solution.

If you progress into learning and development management or leadership, don’t become distanced from the reality of learning delivery, be that face-to-face or virtual. Effective interaction with learners is the core of our purpose and it’s life-affirming to facilitate those ‘ah-ha’ learning moments.

Creativity normally takes time and space. Great ideas rarely result from a packed diary but when time is made for ideation and incubation. And, I have some specific places that I retreat to that seem to help get the creative juices flowing. If you want creative solutions also make sure you work in group settings.

Enter awards! Creating an award submission for peer review based on your best initiative requires in-depth reflection which strengthens a learning function. Shortlisting does much for organisational and team esteem. And you never know, if the work is innovative and well executed, you could win.

Be an early investigator-adopter. Effective leaders don’t jump on every bandwagon but are fully aware of opportunities as they come into view. A strong professional network is vital in the evaluation process.

Great leaders seem to have instinct that in the majority of cases is right. Instinct improves with experience, so to develop instinctive thinking, bounce your considered approach off an experienced mentor. It will hone your decision making and innovative ideas.

Have the confidence to act counter-culturally. Salmon would die out if they didn’t battle upstream; we must emulate their resilience rather than basking in pools that lead to extinction.

Take calculated risks. Those who effectively lead and achieve have overcome the fear of failure. The vast majority of mistakes that we may make are not mission critical or massively costly. We need to create environments where calculated risk is encouraged and it’s OK for each of us to take a leap of faith.


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